By: Scott Griffen
Cuban Journalist Faces Decade in Prison
Articles Were Critical of Government Infrastructure Project
By: Scott Griffen
VIENNA, 26 Jan. 2012 – A Cuban journalist working for the official Communist party newspaper could soon be sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for alleged corruption. Officials have remained silent as to the exact nature of the charges but the journalist had written a pair of articles containing criticism of a major government infrastructure project.
José Antonio Torres was detained on 11 March, 2011 and has since been held in an undisclosed prison, according to Café Fuerte, an exile newspaper based in Miami.
Prior to his arrest, Mr. Torres worked as a correspondent for Granma, the party newspaper, in Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second-largest city. He covered the rehabilitation of a key aqueduct intended to supply water to the city’s half-million inhabitants.
A colossal undertaking –– according to Torres, the government had invested 160 million pesos (approx. 120 million Euros) in the aqueduct –– the project was directly overseen by Ramiro Valdés, vice president of Cuba’s Council of State.
In an article (“An Urgent Challenge”) published in Granma on 9 July, 2010, Mr. Torres, quoting a number of government-appointed hydraulics and construction experts involved in the effort, reported on potential technical problems with the rehabilitation. For example, Torres quoted one of the experts as having said that “ineptitude” and “poor workmanship” had caused parts of the aqueduct wall’s veneer to fall off.
At the end of that article, Granma noted that Cuban President Raúl Castro had directed the paper to remove the names of the experts cited by Torres and included a short comment piece from Castro in which the Cuban leader “disagree[d] on certain points”. (Castro did, however, congratulate Torres on the latter’s “steadfastness in covering the project”.)
On 10 January, 2011, Granma published the second of Mr. Torres’s articles on the subject, called “Six Months after the Addendum of Raúl”. While Torres on that occasion praised concrete progress on the work, he nevertheless struck a critical tone, saying the process lacked a “unifying vision”. He added, “a million-dollar project such as this should have been better planned”, and pointed to specific structural deficits in walls and piping such as a lack of washers and elbow bends.
Media workers in Santiago de Cuba reportedly speculated to Café Fuerte that Mr. Torres had angered Cuban Council of State Vice President Valdés with his criticism. “We don’t know anything, but it’s being said that this is a personal vendetta on Ramiro’s part,” the news site quotes one of them as saying. Café Fuerte added that Torres had been initially accused of being a CIA agent before the prosecution amended its charges.
IPI Press Freedom Manager Anthony Mills said: “The Cuban government appears to be punishing José Antonio Torres for his critical writing. If there is evidence to support the corruption charges, it must be presented in a timely and transparent manner; otherwise, Torres should be released immediately.”
The Cuban government recently freed on “humanitarian grounds” a Spanish journalist, Sebastián Martínez Ferraté, who had been in prison for 17 months on charges of facilitating prostitution and corruption of minors, according to news reports. The charges apparently referred to a documentary on child prostitution in Cuba that Ferraté had produced in 2008. He was arrested upon his return to Havana in July 2010.
Media reports quoted the journalist as saying upon his return to Madrid that he had experienced the worst that can happen to a person. The only thing compounding that, he added, was “knowing that you have not committed a crime”.